The Messengers of Malachi, Part 3
Issue No. 331
In Malachi 1:13 God complains about the priests’ attitude toward the sacrifices, saying,
13 “You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it [i.e., “pooh-pooh it”],” says the Lord of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery, and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?” says the Lord.
Not only were people bringing sacrificial animals that were lame or sick, but also what they had stolen. If the people themselves were bringing defective animals, there is little doubt that the priests would have rejected them, because these animals were given to the priests, either to eat or to put in their flocks.
Rather, it was the priests themselves who were guilty of this charge. Since they were the animal inspectors, only God was their Overseer, and only He knew what they were doing. The priests were following religious rituals but did not really believe that these had any effect. They did not know God, nor were they conscious of His daily presence. It was only a job to them, a means of support and even an opportunity to become wealthy.
“Should I accept such sacrifices?” God says. Obviously not. Many have given offerings and sacrifices without God accepting them. Religious forms are satisfied, but no real relationship with God is established or built up.
Malachi 1:14 continues,
14 “But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock, and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,” says the Lord of hosts, “and My name is feared [or revered] among the nations.”
A “swindler” who steals an animal and then offers it to God is offering “a blemished animal.” The problem is not the animal, but the one who offers it. God does not really care about blemished animals, but He cares deeply about blemished hearts and wrong motives.
A study of church history shows how often priests have swindled offerings from the people on the pretext of having them give a sacrificial offering to God. The crude methods of past centuries have now been replaced by more refined swindles, but invariably, these methods are based either on fear or guilt, rather than upon one’s love for Christ.
Today, most of the large ministries hire advertising companies to write their letters appealing for money. Their computers even insert the personal names into those letters, and many actually believe that the minister himself sat down to write them a personal letter. The appeals for money are often shameless, but it is so common that it has become “normal” church practice. And so, we have reached the same level of corruption that Malachi saw in his day.
God pronounces a curse upon such swindlers and their ministries in Mal. 1:14. This does not mean that they would run out of money. It means that they are on course for divine judgment unless they repent and raise their ethical standards in accordance with the laws of sacrifice.
Malachi 2:1, 2 says,
1 “And now, this commandment is for you, O priests. 2 If you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name,” says the Lord of hosts, “then I will send the curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings; and indeed, I have cursed them already, because you are not taking it to heart.”
One can only imagine the dark looks that Malachi must have received from the priests of his day when he pronounced God’s curse upon them. After all, were they not God’s agents and emissaries on the earth, appointed by God in the days of Moses and Aaron? Did they not enjoy full job security?
There is no evidence that they repented at the preaching of the prophet. These priests of Levi desperately needed cleansing, and indeed, God promised to intervene at some point, for Mal. 3:3 says,
3 And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.
Who was to do this? Verse 1 identifies Him as “the messenger of the covenant,” the fourth messenger in the book of Malachi, who comes “like a refiner’s fire” (vs. 2). This is a reference to Jesus Himself, who was to come suddenly (unexpectedly) to His temple. Jesus fulfilled this in John 7:14 in the middle of the feast of Tabernacles.
John the Baptist identified Him in Matt. 3:11, saying, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This promise was not to be fulfilled in Levi per se, but in the new priests of the Melchizedek Order, with Jesus as their High Priest. There were, of course, Levites and priests of the old order who took heed to John’s words and repented. Later, too, after the day of Pentecost, “a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
These priests of Levi ultimately lost their position in the old temple order in Jerusalem, but they gained a new position of authority as priests of Christ in the Melchizedek Order. Of course, they were joined by many others who were not of Levi, because this new order did not have the same genealogical requirements. One did not have to be of Levi to be a Melchizedek priest.
The point is that Malachi 2:2 prophesies a curse that was to be laid upon the priests of the old order. As a result of that curse, Levitical priests were replaced by the new order of priests who were of the Melchizedek Order.
Malachi 2:3 says,
3 Behold, I am going to rebuke your offspring, and I will spread refuse [peresh, “dung, entrails”] on your faces, the refuse of your feasts; and you will be taken away with it.
In offering sacrifices at the feasts, the priests were instructed to dispose of the animal’s entrails, or peresh. This word comes from the root word parash, which means “to separate, distinguish.” Hence, the word picture in this verse pictures God smearing the priests’ faces with entrails—in essence, identifying them with the entrails, rather than the sacrifice itself. So He says, “You will be taken away with it,” that is with the entrails.
This was the curse that was laid upon the priests of Levi in the previous verse.
The Change of Priesthood
Mal. 2:4 continues,
4 “Then you will know that I have sent this commandment to you, that My covenant may continue with Levi,” says the Lord of hosts.
In other words, this commandment—to repent or remain under the curse of God—is in spite of the original command given to Moses that the sons of Aaron should be His priests (Lev. 8:5).
Moreover, the high priesthood was also given by “a covenant of a perpetual [olam] priesthood” (Num. 25:13) to Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron. His high priestly dynasty ended in the early years of Solomon’s reign, when Abiathar was replaced by Zadok (1 Kings 2:35). This replacement prophesied of the change of priesthood that was to take place later when the Melchi-Zadok Order replaced that of Levi. Heb. 7:11, 12 says,
11 Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.
The priests in Malachi’s time apparently did not take to heart the fact that they could be replaced. They thought that their position was secure no matter how displeasing they were to God. But the “perpetual covenant” that God made with Phinehas in the days of Moses was not really perpetual at all. Neither was it an “everlasting covenant” as the KJV reads. The Hebrew word olam does not mean perpetual or everlasting, but “a hidden, indefinite, or unknown period of time.” Phinehas’ dynasty lasted about 300 years, but when this covenant was spoken to him, no one knew how long it might last.
Even the new line of Zadok was only a type and shadow of the Melchizedek Order that was yet to come. Zadok himself was of the lineage of Aaron, though not of Phinehas. The priests in Malachi’s time were probably from Zadok, but by this time they had become disobedient to God and were offering corrupted sacrifices. They should not have presumed that God would overlook their disobedience. They should have remembered what happened to the line of Phinehas.
These warnings were given 400 years before Christ was to come. Malachi’s prophecies thus gave the priests ample warning that the “curse” upon them would result in their replacement at some point in history. If they had studied the writings of Daniel, they might have known that their replacement would come at the end of “seventy weeks” of years (i.e., 490 years) from the decree of Artaxerxes. That decree had been issued just a few years earlier.
A True Priest
Malachi then presents the model of a true priest. No one is named directly, but on the surface it appears that the model was either Aaron or Phinehas. However, this also prophesies of Jesus Christ. The prophet says in Mal. 2:5-7,
5 My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me, and stood in awe of My name. 6 True instruction was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. 7 For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.
The true high priest is the second “messenger” in the book of Malachi. Any godly high priest, of course, became a type of Christ in His role as High Priest, and thus also could fit the general description of this “messenger of the Lord of hosts.” He is one who lives at peace with God, one who has no arrest warrants issued against him by the divine court.
Such a high priest preserves the knowledge of God, so that men may “seek instruction from his mouth.” Hosea 4:1 denounces the House of Israel, “because there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land.” The prophet goes on to say in Hosea 4:6,
6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
We see, then, that false priests reject the knowledge of God and forget the divine law. The law reveals the knowledge of God’s mind and plan. The priests were supposed to qualify as judges in the land, deciding cases and resolving disputes according to the mind of God. But the priests in Malachi’s time were violating the law, disqualifying themselves as God’s true priests. Ultimately, a greater High Priest was needed, One who would know the law and its intent, so that he could qualify to judge the world as the Supreme Court Justice.
Malachi then chides the priests in his day for not following the model that God had set forth for them to follow.
8 “But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction, you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,” says the Lord of hosts. 9 So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people, just as you are not keeping My ways, but are showing partiality in the instruction.
Injustice comes when the judges (priests) do not hold to the divine standard of right and wrong when they settle disputes among the people. The priests in the time of Malachi had turned aside from the ways of God. They had “corrupted the covenant of Levi.” God had covenanted with Levi to administer His laws, so that justice (and mercy) could bring peace and prosperity to the land.
But the priests had failed to implement true justice, and as a result, the priests were “despised and abased before all the people.” When justice is not done, the people lose respect for the judges. When the judges do not remain good examples to the public, the people soon lose the knowledge of God and forget His law.
Injustice often involves showing partiality or favoritism in applying the law. The rich are often favored above the poor; but sometimes the poor are favored over the rich, when governments decide to rob the rich in order to support the poor. The law addresses this in Exodus 23:3, “you shall not be partial to a poor man in his dispute.”
The other major problem which the law addresses is men’s partiality toward other tribes or ethnicities. Exodus 23:9 says,
9 And you shall not oppress a stranger [ger, “guest, sojourner, alien”], since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Hence, in the same way that the Israelites were aliens in the land of Egypt—where they were oppressed—so also were there aliens in Israel who were NOT to be oppressed.
This law is explained further in Lev. 19:33, 34,
33 When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
This is the law on which the second great commandment is based: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). Verse 34 shows that aliens were also neighbors that were included in this commandment. This is fortified in Deut. 10:19, which says,
19 So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
God makes it clear that Israel ought to know that showing partiality is a sin against God, because they too had been aliens in the land of Egypt just a short time earlier. The Egyptians mistreated them, so Israel should know better than to mistreat non-Israelites.
The law against partiality is summarized in Num. 15:15, 16,
15 As for the assembly [kahal, “church, assembly”], there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the Lord. 16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.
God’s law reveals His standard of righteous behavior. What is right for an Israelite is right for all ethnicities. Right is right, and wrong is wrong, no matter who does it. That is the mind of God, as revealed in Christ.
Even today, Jewish rabbis promote the idea that non-Jews should follow the so-called “Noahide laws,” while the Jews should follow the laws of Moses. This distinction is rooted in the idea that non-Jews have “satanic souls” and are thus incapable of understanding the bulk of Mosaic law.
This teaching is discussed more fully by Dr. Israel Shahak in his book, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel. Dr. Shahak quotes Rabbi Menachem Schneerson:
“Two contrary types of soul exist, a non-Jewish soul comes from three satanic spheres, while the Jewish soul stems from holiness.” (p. 60)
Hence, because non-Jews have “satanic souls,” they are on the level of “beasts” and “cattle,” and as such are incapable of having serious moral values. For this reason, they developed the idea of two laws, one for Jews and the other for non-Jews.
Such thinking violates Num. 15:16, which mandates “one law and one ordinance” for all people.
The problem was that the priests in Malachi’s time were violating the law by their partiality in administering the law. Though the prophet does not explain himself further, we know that he was prophesying of the problem as it was developing. The problem was clearly seen in Jesus’ day.
Partiality in Jesus’ Time
Jesus often denounced the priests for their partiality.
Matt. 5:43-45 says,
43 You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 44 But I say to you, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
By this time, Jewish culture was rooted in the idea that they were supposed to hate their “enemies,” which referred to virtually all foreigners. They despised the Samaritans, and so the Samaritan woman at the well was surprised when Jesus spoke to her (John 4:9).
Even Peter found it somewhat difficult to explain God’s impartiality in giving Roman soldiers the Holy Spirit. Acts 10:34, 35 says,
34 And opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.
In other words, Christians were supposed to break free of the cultural idea of Judea and its priests, which instructed Jews to hate their perceived enemies and to treat non-Jews unjustly whenever possible. The law said to love the aliens, whereas Jewish traditions allowed Jews to mistreat aliens.
Impartiality in Keeping Feast Days
The law of God commands all men to keep the feasts of the Lord. Passover was to be kept by both Israelites and aliens (Exodus 12:48, 49). Pentecost too was to be kept by all men (Deut. 16:11), as well as Tabernacles (Deut. 16:14).
In the book of Acts, even Peter was surprised when the Holy Spirit came upon Roman soldiers, but he quickly learned the law of impartiality. Today, some deny that non-Israelites can become overcomers by keeping Tabernacles. They will have to learn the law by seeing overcomers from every tribe, tongue and nation at the appointed time (Rev. 5:9).